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Radio programme on superlinguists

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I have been listening to a very interesting radio programme on polyglots at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3csz4pt

There are interesting points about the ways that knowledge of languages brings power (reference is made to Mandela learning Afrikaans, which was seen as the language of his oppressors but that it was much more useful for him to know it than not know it).  This seems to have resonance with the need for English speakers to know other languages.

A speaker explains how the knowledge of several languages helps her to gain respect.  It also helps her to break down stereotypes.

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Language learning and Brexit

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Friday, 1 Mar 2019, 15:03

There have been many depressing reports of a decrease in the number of people studying languages.  This is reflected in this article


An interesting point is that "more than half (58%) of UK adults wish they hadn’t let the language skills they learned at school slip, 77% agree that language skills increase employability and just over half (53%) regret not having made the most of studying languages when they had the chance."

It is to be hoped that Brexit does not happen  but it seems that the lack of encouragement to learn languages and to understand other cultures may have been a factor in causing the referendum result.

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Russian as the language of space travel

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It is interesting to listen to Helen Sharman at about 58 minutes of this programme describing how the first few months of her training to go into space were devoted to learning Russian and physcal fitness.


She seemed very matter of fact about the need to learn it.

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National Associate Lecturers in Languages Conference Part 1, Klaus-Dieter Rosdade

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I was at the NALLC conference this weekend and found it an interesting and worthwhile occasion.

The first talk was by Klaus-Dieter Rosade.  He emphasised the joy of language learning and also argued that there is a clear link between the senses and language learning.  For example, he described how he had strong associations between smells he associated with Mexico (eg corn tortillas and beans) and the Spanish language.  At first, I felt sceptical about this as the smells are associated with countries rather than languages but perhaps there is a sensory link between certain smells and certain varieties of languages.  For example, I would associate certain smells with Qinghai province in China - perhaps chilli and mutton and different smells with Guangzhou - perhaps soya and oyster sauce and a more vegetal smell.  This might link to the different languages and varieties of Chinese spoken in these places.

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Briton in space, multlingualism and intercultural competence

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 16 Dec 2015, 17:44

I suppose I am showing my age if I state how interested I have always been by space exploration.  So, I have been very interested in newspaper coverage and television coverage of Tim Peake's flight.

One of the aspects that drew my attention was his need to study Russian during his training,  This was not surprising as he is traveling in a Russian craft and the Star Gazing programme last night mentioned how Russian is naturally the working language for the Soyuz flights although English will be used on the ISS.  The international nature of the ISS also presumably means there would need to be a high degree of intercultural competence on the part of the cosmo/astronauts.

Probably most viewers would have been aware of his physical, psychological and scientific skills but linguistic and intercultural competence must also be vital for these cosmo/astronauts.

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 17 Dec 2015, 09:45)
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Online language teaching

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I have just come across a rather negative critique of online language teaching at http://www.teflideas.com/055_The_Drawbacks_of_Online_Language_Learning.html

While there may be some challenges in teaching languages online, it seems to me that the post is unduly negative.  I first address the comments and then state some advantages of online language learning.

1 "only one person can have the mic at any time".  This is not true in OU Live.  The teacher may choose to restrict access to the microphone but it is easy to allow multiple speakers although this might affect sound quality.

2 "Groups tasks - are incredibly hard to initiate and execute".  Again this is not true.  In OU Live, there are Breakout Rooms where students can work together in groups.

3 "Circulating, listening in, praising good language, speaking specifically, demonstrating a point, eliciting errors and answers quietly to a group while others are working is virtually impossible in a virtual classroom".  Again this is not true.  A tutor can be in one of the breakout rooms and address feedback to the learners in that room only.

4 "Instruction gets filtered and convoluted when you put a medium between yourself and the learners. Non verbal gestures are unknown and unnoticed — you can’t point, shrug, nod, or grimace".  Perhaps there is more justice in this comment.  However, there is the option of the text box, which might be more public and allow for another mode for expression.  There is also the possibility of using emoticons.

5 "Teacher led teaching".  This does not need to be the case.  Learners can be asked to work in groups.  Learners also can/should bring their own needs to a class.  Learners can be asked to prepare to lead the session.

6 "whiteboard presentation, which forces all written communication to be typed".  This is not completely true but I am not really sure what the problem is with this.

7 "If a student asks something to the teacher, it’s inevitably typed rather than spoken".  This is not necessarily the case. 

Some other points that seem relevant are the following:

- the OU's online language learning tends to be integrated with the rest of the course (eg online asynchronous discussion forums) so online tutorials should not be seen in isolation.

- online classes allow for learners to be remote from each other and this provides opportunities in that the learners can see and know different things.  The sessions may bring people together who might not otherwise meet.

- sessions can be recorded and in theory, learners might be able to reflect on their performance in a way face to face teachers cannot.

Would anyone care to comment on the original posting or my reply?

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 7 Mar 2016, 10:44)
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Letters in The Gurdian on Language Learning

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Very important points are made in these letters, especially the first.


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language learning in the UK

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 5 Apr 2011, 11:59


Interesting if depressing.  I am surprised businesses do not make more of an issue of this.  It seems that even if a lot of business is done in English, British firms can only really find out about other countries (eg opportunities, problems etc) if they have the linguistic capacity to do so. 

I also wonder if more use should be made of capacity to teach languages spoken in this country rather than the traditional foreign languages.



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